Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out many demons, and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers. Jesus Christ
Facts are stubborn things. A lie cannot live.
I believe that both John Adams and Martin Luther King, Jr, were onto a bit of the truth of life when they authored those pithy little statements. At the same time, I know full well that the life of a lie can stretch into centuries, even millennia, and that facts, while stubborn, can be subverted for long periods of time by those lies.
As Dr McCoy in the original Star Trek said, “Evil usually triumphs, unless good is very, very careful.”
I’ve been reading the various bishop’s statements regarding the McCarrick scandal. It’s a disheartening read. The phrase that comes to mind when I go through these things is “blah-blah-blah.” All they seem to offer is the same old marbles-in-the-mouth, self-serving posturing that they’ve been shoveling for the past 20 years.
These statements don’t so much speak words, as they gargle them. They employ foamy religious-speak that bubbles and spews, but says nothing.
Most bishops focus on claims that the fault lies in the bureaucratic language of their earlier work, although a few of them actually seem to be blaming the laity for their own failings. The bulk of their statements say that this situation can be corrected by inserting a phrase or two holding bishops, as well as priests, responsible when they molest/rape/assault. They word even this feeble admission in careful language that never acknowledges the breathtaking arrogance in the fact that, for 20 years, the bishops have kept themselves above being held responsible for their own actions.
They imply that the problem has nothing to do with a predatory culture of lies and sexual corruption inside the Church, that there is no priestly moral failing except on the part of the priests and bishops who have been incontrovertibly proven to have molested children.
According to what they’re saying, this latest installment of the on-going scandal is all on former Cardinal McCarrick. They are more than happy to hand McCarrick to the mob to do with as we please. After all, he’s retired now and no longer wields power inside their number. They can shove him out the door to meet his fate and then huddle inside until this blows over. That appears to be the plan.
The bishops are just about unanimous in blaming the language in 20-year-old documents for their own behavior. They imply that as soon as they change that verbiage, the heart and mind of every bishop will follow. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars or the bishops, it’s in the language.
The explanations bishops have been offering for this 20-year violation of everything they say about themselves ranges from mushy religious-speak banalities, to absurd misdirection and blame shifting that would be comical if the situation wasn’t so real. One thing all these statements have in common is a blank-faced refusal to accept the responsibility that is inherent in the office they hold. Whatever else they say or do not say, not one of them is stepping up and admitting that this is their fault.
The bishops created this scandal. It is, from top to bottom, their doing. It is not something that happened because a good part of the laity ignores the Church’s teaching on birth control. It did not come about because of the sexual revolution. This 20-year scandal is also not the fault of a few baby-raping priests.
The fact that is, the bishops created this scandal because a significant percentage of them refused to do their jobs and the rest of them refused to accept the responsibility that goes with the power they wield. They abused those who had already been abused by priests all over again with bullying, shaming, stonewalling, lying, bribing and hiding behind walls of lawyers who were paid with the laity’s donations. They supported the priests who raped children in a systemic manner that was and is totally devoid of the actions of the normal conscience of normal human beings.
The clergy sex abuse scandal is not, as they would like to claim, the fault of the laity, or the sexual revolution or the misbehavior of an isolated priest or bishop. It is most certainly not due to a lack of the proper language in the rules the bishops write themselves to govern themselves. This self-referencing, circular reasoning isn’t the way out of this mess, it is the cause of the mess.
The clergy sex abuse scandal is a wound that won’t heal and the reason why is that the people who committed the crime are in charge of determining their own guilt. This is not a failure of one or two bishops. It is quite clearly and obviously a systemic outgrowth of a culture of self-serving lies and sexual corruption within the priesthood.
I’ve written columns saying that we should not scapegoat homosexual priests, and I meant what I wrote. But at the same time, I believe that the people who are talking about a “cabal” of sexual depravity inside the priesthood are responding to something that has become incontrovertable.
I won’t say that every priest knows about this. But I’m willing to bet the ranch that a lot of them do, and that even those who are not sexual predators keep their mouths shut in a kind of omertà. It stinks of a I’ll-keep-quiet-about-you-so-that-you’ll-keep-quiet-about-me stench. It reeks of an enforced silence built on mutual protection and career coercion. I imagine that this begins with the quiet view that boys-will-be-boys and it’s ok to break the vow of celibacy so long as you’re discrete.
There have been enough priests who’ve had their affairs exposed and enough former priests who’ve spoken out to make the case that celibacy is an option rather than a requirement for priests. This creates a priesthood that is hollowed out by a culture of lies. Priests who violate their vows in a repetitive and uncaring fashion are living a lie. That lie and the rebellion it is about break the priesthood when it becomes accepted and acceptable. “Do what you want, just don’t get caught” is not exactly a prescription for a moral life.
Not only that, but living a lie makes the liar vulnerable to everyone who covers for him. You can’t talk about someone else’s child molesting because if you did, they’d talk about your affairs or the wild nights out at the gay bars.
I think this corrupt environment in which so many priests are living a lie is what leads to their inability to react to the sexual abuse scandal with anything approaching moral integrity. It’s equally obvious that the rot extends right up the clerical food chain to the highest ranking prelates.
We aren’t dealing with a few bad bishops and a small percentage of predator priests. We are dealing with a system of corruption that is embedded in the priesthood to the point that a lot of priests and bishops evidently think that living an inauthentic priesthood of lies is their right.
However, zeroing on homosexual priests begs the point. Anyone who thinks that heterosexual priests would behave any better just because they are heterosexual doesn’t know much about men. Men who act out sexually tend to hang together. They bully, insult and haze other men who won’t join them in doing these things with emasculating jibes and verbal hazing. It takes a lot of guts to refuse to participate, and speaking out about it is an isolating, career-ending act of homeric moral courage.
I witnessed this from inside the male dominated political world for decades. I understand the omertà that is enforced with threats of personal destruction. Gay or straight, it makes no difference. It’s a boys’ club thing and the enforcement that goes with it is beyond the comprehension of those who’ve never experienced it.
As I said in another post, we could, if we got rid of all homosexual priests, switch the victims from little boys to little girls. But we would not stop the sexual predation.
One of the primary characteristics of the many responses to clerical sexual depravity that I’ve seen down through the years is that it almost always focuses on what is legal and ignores what is moral. That is a very telling lapse, coming as it does from men we rely on to be our religious leaders.
It raises the specter I’ve been grappling with ever since so many of our religious leaders spoke out in support of the child molester Roy Moore in the Alabama senate race. Are these men religious leaders? Or, are they poseurs?
I’m not going to get into what I have decided for myself personally. I am just going to say that I think we are at an impasse with the bishops.
Their many mush-minded statements and declarations of whatever are freighted with unspoken meaning. The message is in what they don’t say, and that message is simple and consistent.
They aren’t going to change.
They aren’t going to accept responsibility for their own actions.
They do not accept the call to heroic followership of Christ that would force them to break ranks with the corrupt culture that feeds this beast.
They’re going to stick with the fiction that the problem is in the phraseology of a rusty document they wrote themselves excusing themselves and not in their failure as Christian men. They’ll blame the laity. They’ll blame the priests. They’ll blame the sexual revolution. But they will never, ever, blame themselves.
This is textbook behavior of the unrepentant. It sends a clear message of I-won’t-change-and-you-can’t-make-me.
So the question arises: What should we demand of our Church now? Where do we, the laity, go from here?
… to be continued.
For more thoughts on the scandal, check out
“The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves,” is a quote from William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. I paraphrased it in this column.